Dairy in the USA

Before heading to the to USA last month, my ideas about the place came almost exclusively from CSI, with a little Breaking Bad thrown in for good measure. Naturally I was expecting to come across multiple crime scenes, drug-dealing chemistry teachers, and Horatio Kane look-alikes peering over their sunglasses as they nutted out ways to snare the latest killer. Of course, that’s about as sensible as basing your views on Auckland solely on Highway re-runs (it’s not all like that in the big city, I promise!). Still, my 4 weeks in the dairy heartland of the USA were a real eye opener – and not only because murder mysteries were nowhere to be seen.

The first surprising thing was that there actually is a dairy capital of the USA – Wisconsin proudly announces this fact on every state numberplate. I have to admit that I never actually saw a real live cow during my stay in Milwaukee, but the abundance of ice cream and frozen custard, complemented by the display of full-size fibre-glass cows at the local dairy bar more than made up for that fact.

What else was surprising? Well, the number of large things, for a start. The USA does a reputation for excess, but I had hitherto been under the impression that things like giant gumboots and carrots were the domain of Kiwiana. In fact, the Rakaia salmon would’ve looked right at home in the local baseball stadium, amongst the giant mitt & racing sausages. That’s right, racing sausages. The 5 oversized bangers took off in a sprint around the stadium just after the 6th innings, attracting the loudest cheers of the entire game.

Going to a baseball game was quite a cultural experience in itself – the drumrolls and giant TV screens were great prompts for when to cheer, but it was the other spectators who put on the best show – cheese-shaped hats were the order of the day (dairy capital, remember). It was also at the baseball stadium that I came across a new definition of the word ‘tailgate.’ In Wisconsin, this refers to a BBQ party out the back of your pick up truck, not sitting for hours in Auckland traffic. As someone who abhors traffic jams, you can understand why I was initially hesitant about “going tailgating” – cheese curds and sausages put paid to any doubts.

All in all, I’ve learnt that the USA is a much tastier, less lethal place than I imagined, and that large things are a great talking point in many parts of the globe.

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian

Give a Dog A Bone


The other day a friend mentioned that he had a bone for our dog. Like most pooches, our pup enjoys a good chew on cartilage and canon bones every now and then. Last time we were up in Auckland we stopped by the butcher to grab a few off-cuts, and the fist-sized chunks kept pup busy all holiday. We smiled, said thank you for the offer, and were on our merry way.

By the time we arrived home, our friend was nowhere to be seen, but he’d left a calling card that was hard to miss: one dead cow in the middle of the lawn. The carcass was midway between the dog run and the washing line, positioned like a garden sculpture, which, had it actually been more avant garde, would no doubt have been entitled ‘Lady Gaga’s Coat Hanger.’

If Carrie Bradshaw wannabes in the big smoke are said to desire a walk in wardrobe in which to store their hundreds of pairs of business stilettos, this was the canine equivalent. The cavernous ribs dwarfed the dog for whom it was intended, and she could walk in alright. In fact, once she’d done so we didn’t see her for another three days. This was actually the closest she’d ever come to anything that moos – usually she’s off in the other direction at the slightest whiff of a cowpat – but she more than made up for lost time.

The arrival of the cow also turned out to be a great lesson in anatomy for pup, but not in the scholarly vein. Instead, she slowly learnt that her eyes are bigger than her stomach – slow being the operative word. In the end we had to relegate the cow to inside the dog run and the dog to outside, in the interests of stopping our pet’s tum from ballooning out any further. One bite more and we would’ve been in real danger of losing her as she drifted up into the wide blue of a Canterbury sky.

Coming from the city, Methven remains the only place I know where a friend dropping off a ‘dog treat’ means you come home to find a dead cow in the garden. It is also one of the few places where such behaviour is considered socially acceptable. Up in Auckland, carcasses stay firmly out of sight. Dog treats come from New World and are no longer associated with the original animal, nor with the cuts of meat the beast provided for human consumers. Down here things are much more open, for better or for worse. One may question whether all this talk of death might be a bit much for a vegetarian ex-Aucklander to stomach, but I’m still leaning towards the former. The cow was definitely fresh, and we’ll not be needing any more dog bones for a good while yet.

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian

Last Friday Night

Last weekend I visited Auckland, city of sails and signs and sounds. Come Friday night, we headed for that holy grail of gaudiness and over-stimulation: The Arcade. No matter what your favourite colour there is a game to match, complete with looped theme tune and special effects lighting. From Dance Dance Revolution to Air Hockey and Photo Booth, this parody of city life provided the colour and bustle and crowds and sensory overload that I have missed.

Growing up, such busyness was always just background noise – something that I was not consciously aware of but was nonetheless slightly comforting. It was not until spending time away from the bright lights and street corner preachers of Queen Street that I realised how much I had been screening out. Impromptu street theatre? Ice cream parlour karaoke? How did I not notice these before?

Ashburton, with a smaller population, has less on the radar, but there are still entertainment options, many of which you would never get in the city. Take the cow milking competition in the Tinwald Tavern, for instance. The concept was simple: whoever could extract the greatest volume of milk from their’ cow’s udder by hand in one minute was the winner. Being a city girl, I had never really considered the possibility that bovine mammaries might form the basis for a competitive sport, let alone one that was spectator friendly. It certainly gave new meaning to the term ‘brown eyed beauty’.

A recent chat to a local revealed yet another unique entertainment form run in the vicinity: the Methven sheep racing. Not content with annual motorcycle races, the town went one step further, introducing theRacing Baa Blacks to the repertoire of street circuit events. Auckland tried to stage a similar event as part of the Rugby World Cup parade last year, but it was shouted down as a no-go. Sheep don’t know how to obey traffic lights, and their droppings would have posed a hazard to inner city cycle couriers. While the question of droppings remains, contending with red lights is not a problem in Methven.

Perhaps the rural nature of Mid Canterbury has been sending out subliminal messages, because my big city arcade visit concluded with an equine twist. I couldn’t resist trying out the plastic horse video game from the early 1990s, and although the realism of the ride was slightly lacking – I am yet to hear a real horse announce ‘stop crashing me!’ – my choice of entertainment option does say something about the way my large animal horizons have broadened over the last year. Who knows, next time I’m in Auckland it could be to pitch a new game to the arcade, based on competitive cow milking. ‘Udder Frenzy’ could be the next big thing…

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian